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ACA not reported job-killer

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Some opponents of the Affordable Care Act put such a misleading spin on a bit of recent news that it makes me wonder how they’re able to function each day.

On Tuesday, the Congressional Budget Office released a report titled “The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024.” Part of this forecast was an assessment of how the ACA would impact jobs over the next decade. This information was easy to find as it was contained in a section of the report titled “Labor Effects of the Affordable Care Act: Updated Estimates.”

Here are some knee-jerk headlines about this section of the CBO report:

“BamCare Death Blow: Goodbye to 2 million jobs,” John Podhoretz in Wednesday’s New York Post.

“ACA will cut jobs,” an editorial in Wednesday’s Boston Herald.

“Obamacare will push 2 million workers out of labor market: CBO,” from a Tuesday article on WashingtonTimes.com.

“The Jobless Care Act: Congress’s budget office says ObamaCare will increase unemployment,” an editorial from Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal.

“ObamaCare could lead to loss of nearly 2.3 million US jobs, report says,” a Tuesday article on FoxNews.com.

In fact, that’s not what the report says. It projects “a decline in the number of full-time equivalent workers of about 2.0 million in 2017, rising to about 2.5 million in 2024.” While a portion of these will be from employers reducing hours and cutting workers, the vast majority of this decline will be as a result of people voluntarily cutting their own hours or leaving the job market altogether.

Here are the relevant portions of this report (it’s dry reading but worth the effort):

“The ACA’s largest impact on labor markets will probably occur after 2016, once its major provisions have taken full effect and overall economic output nears its maximum sustainable level. CBO estimates that the ACA will reduce the total number of hours worked, on net, by about 1.5 percent to 2.0 percent during the period from 2017 to 2024, almost entirely because workers will choose to supply less labor — given the new taxes and other incentives they will face and the financial benefits some will receive. Because the largest declines in labor supply will probably occur among lower-wage workers, the reduction in aggregate compensation (wages, salaries and fringe benefits) and the impact on the overall economy will be proportionally smaller than the reduction in hours worked. …

“The reduction in CBO’s projections of hours worked represents a decline in the number of full-time equivalent workers of about 2.0 million in 2017, rising to about 2.5 million in 2024. Although CBO projects that total employment (and compensation) will increase over the coming decade, that increase will be smaller than it would have been in the absence of the ACA. The decline in full-time equivalent employment stemming from the ACA will consist of some people not being employed at all and other people working fewer hours; however, CBO has not tried to quantify those two components of the overall effect. The estimated reduction stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply, rather than from a net drop in businesses’ demand for labor, so it will appear almost entirely as a reduction in labor force participation and in hours worked relative to what would have occurred otherwise rather than as an increase in unemployment (that is, more workers seeking but not finding jobs) or underemployment (such as part-time workers who would prefer to work more hours per week).”

Given that most of the people reducing their hours or leaving the workforce will do so voluntarily, the jobs they have will still exist. And, thus, other people who are unemployed or underemployed will have the option of applying for those jobs.

The report said that employment will continue to rise over the next decade but at a slower rate. It also said that the projected reduction of this number of people will slow the rate of compensation growth in the next 10 years, which is good news for companies.

I’ve never been a huge fan of this law. Congress passed far too many measures in one giant omnibus bill, which makes it horribly complicated. I’ve long advocated that lawmakers should have chopped the health care problem into separate sections and take several years to develop more mutually acceptable solutions to each one.

But it’s now the law, and some people are manipulating facts to conjure false images. For one thing, the CBO states that its projections may not come to pass because many parts of the law have never before been implemented.

Therefore, we may be over-reacting for nothing. The report isn’t all doom and gloom, so let’s remain level-headed.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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